MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The first step towards a federalist form of government in the Philippines has been taken.
Davao del Norte First District Representative Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez said on Friday, July 1, that he filed House Concurrent Resolution Number 1, which is calling for a constitutional convention to pave the way for federalism.
“The bill actually is a proposed joint resolution by both Houses of Congress calling for a constitutional convention,” said Alvarez, who filed the bill at the House of Representatives just a few minutes after President Rodrigo Duterte took his oath of office.
Alvarez is the presumptive House Speaker after Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) endorsed his bid for the post. Several lawmakers have since jumped ship to PDP-Laban.
“Why federalism? Because in this way, we can allow ‘yung divergence ‘no, ‘yung sa religion, sa culture, ‘di ba? (divergence, like in religion and culture, right?) Tapos (Then) we allow also each independent states to chart their own districts,” Alvarez explained.
During his campaign, Duterte strongly advocated for a shift to federalism, a form of government where the country is broken down into autonomous regions. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making the shift)
The national government will only focus on issues with nationwide bearing, like foreign policy and defense.
Alvarez said that should the 17th Congress pass his bill, he would then file a second one that would layout the details for the con-con.
“If you ask me, my hope is we could pass it (first resolution), at the most, [in] two months. After that, [the second bill can be passed] hopefully before Christmas,” said Alvarez.
Federalism is Duterte’s alternative to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was not passed into law after the bloody encounter between the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers and fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in January 2015.
The clash, which killed at least 5 civilians, 18 MILF fights, and 44 SAF troopers, eventually led to the death of the BBL in the 16th Congress.
“Well, we will still talk about the BBL [in the 17th Congress] because the concept of the BBL is also the concept of the federal form of government. Only that in federalism, it will be applied to all, for the rest of the country,” said Alvarez.
According to him, PDP-Laban already has 73 members in the Lower House, a far cry to its 3 members in the 16th Congress.
This is giving Alvarez the confidence to say that federalism would be set up in the country “within [Duterte’s] term as president.”
No current legislators in con-con
Under Alvarez's proposal, no member of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines shall run or be appointed as a delegate in the con-con.
Legislative districts shall be represented by a regional delegate.
The President will also appoint 20 delegates, "all of whom shall possess the same qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives at the very least and shall be lawyers who are considered experts or are well versed in constitutional law."
If a delegate is previously holding public office, he or she shall be considered resigned once he or she files his certificate or candidacy or upon appointment to the con-con.
Delegates will also be prohibited from representing any "political party, political group, party list, political committee, civic, religious, professional or other organization or organized group of whatever nature."
No salaries will be given to delegates, but they will be given per diem for every day they will attend the con-con's deliberations. Travel expenses will also be paid for.
"All delegates shall render a full disclosure of their financial and business interests and notify the Con-Con and Congress of a potential conflict of interest that may arise from the discharge of their duties as delegates to the Convention," said Alvarez.
He added that all delegates will enjoy parliamentary immunity conferred by existing laws to Congress members.
"The initial funds necessary to carry out the provisions of the resolution shall include the budget for personnel, premises, equipment and furniture and shall be charged against the Contingent Fund under the Fiscal Year 2016 General Appropriations Act," said Alvarez. – Rappler.com